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Twitter's retreat from 'Buy' buttons puts its payments partner Stripe in an awkward spot

Twitter was Stripe's biggest partner on a new initiative. What happens now?

 Stripe CEO Patrick Collison
Stripe CEO Patrick Collison
Asa Mathat
Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

In September, payments startup Stripe trumpeted a new product that would allow retailers to sell goods directly in social networking and content apps. The biggest partner app Stripe launched with was Twitter, whose 'Buy' buttons allowed users to buy items directly from a tweet.

But just a month later, Twitter disbanded the team working on 'Buy' buttons, as Recode reported on Thursday, and shifted its focus on commerce to other initiatives. The 'Buy' button technology still exists, and retailers can still use Stripe's new product, Relay, to sell products on Twitter. But the perception that Stripe's biggest partner no longer considers it a priority doesn't look good. You could imagine the challenge convincing potential retail partners that they should invest in a program whose biggest platform partner no longer appears to be interested.

"We've always said that Relay is a future bet and would have a long time horizon," a Stripe spokeswoman said in a statement. "We're happy with where the product is today, and are excited to be working with new applications, new retailers and new technology partners signed over the past few months."

The idea behind Relay is that people will increasingly want to purchase items online wherever they discover them, even if it's not on a shopping site or app. And as people spend more of their online time on Twitter and other social apps, they should have the option to complete transactions quickly without leaving those apps, the thinking goes, rather than getting redirected to another site that may be difficult to navigate on a mobile phone.

In addition to Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook have also bought into this thinking to some degree. Each has introduced 'Buy' buttons, with varying levels of investment. But neither one of them currently works with Stripe on the Relay product.

Stripe has recently added Macy's to a list of retailer partners that also includes Best Buy, Saks Fifth Avenue and Adidas. It also recently brought on the technology-focused product discovery site Product Hunt, which joins Twitter on the app side of the equation.

The open question for Stripe is whether retailers and users will show real interest in Twitter's Buy buttons without the company promoting them — and, if not, whether Stripe can find another big-name app to replace Twitter as the anchor partner.

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